Less of a hardcore political event, than an opportunity for the Senator and his wife, Susan, to thank supporters for their efforts over the course of the campaign, the event at the Northstone Country Club in Huntersville attracted a full RSVP list of about 200 people. It included everyone from young campaign volunteers to seasoned politicians from the local, State, and Federal levels.
Landing the first big local appearance after the Senator’s swearing-in last week was a bit of a public relations coup for the NMRW. But then again, it is not surprising either. Senator Tillis was a founding member of the group when it was established as an official Republican Party organization back in 2009. (The NMRW allows men to join as auxiliary members.)
It was also fitting that the NMRW hosted the first local appearance after Tillis’s swearing-in. One could argue the group provided a bit of good luck the last time he spoke there prior to the final push before election-day, so it was nice to see the Senator acknowledge the group with that honor.
Readers may remember the first installment of this column for the Herald Weekly back in early October of last year. At that point, candidate-Tillis was knotted in a tight race with Kay Hagan where Hagan had been maintaining a stubbornly persistent lead of 2-4% in almost all of the polls.
Tillis gave a more aggressive speech at that October NMRW meeting than was being reflected in his campaign’s commercials at the time. It seemed like the kind of speech that could turn the race if given enough traction with the public. Here’s what that earlier column said.
“In short, he displayed the confidence of someone who has done this before all across the state, someone who knows his electorate, and someone who understands what is coming over the next few weeks until election-day. If that Thom Tillis comes through in the ads and debates between now and November 4th, the national pundits who have all but written off this contest could very well be in for a big surprise.”
Little did anyone know then, that just a few days later on October 7th after the next debate with Hagan an event would occur giving the Tillis campaign the boost it needed to get over the top. That event was Kay Hagan’s admission that she had skipped an Armed Services Committee meeting on the terror group ISIS to attend a fundraiser for her campaign..
The day after the election, Tillis Campaign Manager, Jordan Shaw, told the Charlotte Observer the Hagan admission was a “critical point”. A week after that debate the NRSC dumped over $6 million more into the campaign to help capitalize on the opportunity in the home stretch. This combined with another news item outside the campaign’s control – the Ebola crisis in Africa – allowing the Tillis campaign to take over the conversation and turn the tide of an impossibly close race.
As a frame of reference on how close this race turned out to be, Tillis won by the smallest percentage margin of any of the nine Republican pickups this year. His margin was 1.7% - 49% to 47.3%. Other than Alaska, he also had the smallest margin of victory based on raw vote counts - 49,000 votes out of nearly 2.9 million votes cast.
One interesting post election analysis done by RealClearPolitics.com showed that if the overall electorate had turned out to mirror the demographics of the 2012 presidential cycle, the North Carolina race was the only Senate race where the outcome would have been different. Meaning, if the electorate had been younger and less white as it typically is during presidential cycles, Tillis would have been the only new Republican Senator not headed to Washington, D.C.
With a race that tight, here is something interesting to ponder…
What if Kay Hagan had decided to attend that one meeting she skipped? What if she had gone to work that day instead of attending a fundraiser?
If she had, things certainly might be different. However, that’s not how it turned out. Thom Tillis did win the election, and he is headed to Washington. Somewhat ironically, he will also be sitting in Hagan’s old seat on the Armed Services Committee.
There's certainly a lesson in there somewhere. Maybe it’s to always be prepared and to make every opportunity count because you never know which decision might turn out to be the most important one you make. Or, maybe it is just to always keep a lucky rabbit’s foot in your pocket.
In politics, both lessons apply.